Five Things You Didn’t Know about Fast Times at Ridgemont High

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The eighties spawned many great popcorn movies like Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop and Fast Times at Ridgemont High by first time director Amy Heckerling. Fast Times is considered one of the first high school movies, together with the musical Grease, way before the genre was revived by Clueless and ultimately beaten to death by the countless American Pie sequels.

Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason-Leigh in Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason-Leigh in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

As part of the holy triumvirate of eighties high school movies along The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Fast Times at Ridgemont High defined the blueprint on which many other teen movies were made.

Often called the American Graffiti of the eighties, Fast Times features an ensemble cast, several subplots and different stereotypical characters who somehow all seem to share a connection, in this case their attendance to Ridgemont High.

Although the movie was released 35 years ago, it is still very enjoyable and remains a recommendation for everyone, but maybe you didn’t know these five trivia about Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

1) Fast Times was the debut of Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage flipping burgers in Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Nicolas Cage flipping burgers in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Although the movie is set in a high school, Nicolas Cage is one of the few underage actors to appear in the movie. Due to the explicit content and nudity in the film, the crew insisted on only casting actors over 18 to play the main characters. Cage lied about his age to get the part of older brother Brad, but when the producers found out, they gave him a minor part, flipping burgers.

Fast Times is also the only film were Cage is credited as Nicolas Coppola, which is his birth name. The actor boasted about his relation to director Francis Ford Coppola who is his uncle and teased the older actors by saying he’d be famous earlier than they would. and have a better career. It’s hard to deny Nicolas Cage is a household name, rather than Judge ReinholdPhoebe Cates or Brian Backer who had bigger parts in the movie. After this movie he quit bragging and changed his screen name to Nicholas Cage, to avoid nepotism so he could build his career on his own.

2) The cast includes three Oscar winners

Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker in Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

The young cast of Fast Times included three actors who would later win the Academy Award for Best Actor. Method actor and director Sean Penn won an Oscar for Mystic River and the biopic Milk.

Forest Whitaker earned the statuette for his brilliant performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. This made him the fourth African-American actor to win the award after Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington and Jamie Foxx.

Nicolas Cage who briefly appears in Fast Times and in almost every movie since the eighties won his first Oscar for portraying an alcoholic screenwriter in Leaving Las Vegas.

Jennifer Jason Leigh had to wait until 2015 before she was finally nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress since the Academy forgot to nominate her for Dolores Claiborne twenty years earlier. Alas Leigh lost to Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl and didn’t win for het portrayal as the wanted criminal Daisy Domergue in Tarantino‘s western The Hateful Eight.

Cameron Crowe, who wrote the script and the book based on his undercover research at San Diego Clairemont High School on which the film is based upon, won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Almost Famous which he also directed in 2000.

3) The film immortalized the checkered Vans

Jeff Spicoli's checkered Vans in Fast Times
Jeff Spicoli’s checkered Vans in Fast Times

In the seventies a new fad arose. All of a sudden teens started coloring the soles of their shoes with markers and pens. Always up to date with the latest trends, the cool brand Vans was inspired by this phenomenon and designed a shoe with a gridlike pattern, not on the sole but on the top.

The legendary checkerboard pattern was promoted in Fast Times at Ridgemont High by stoner Jeff Spicoli, Sean Penn is seen wearing them in several scenes and even hits himself on the head with one of these distinct black and white shoes.

4) David Lynch was offered to direct the movie


Eccentric director David Lynch, who was known for Eraserhead and The Elephant Man at the time, was asked to direct Fast Times. Although he found the script very amusing, he didn’t think it was his cup of tea, and he turned down the offer.

Instead he proceeded to direct what became the biggest flop of his career. Robbed of his financial freedom, he made the science fiction epos Dune in 1984 starring Kyle McLachlan and Sting based on the novel by Frank Herbert.

5) The film introduced the term wuss

Smooth fellow Damone displays his womanizing skills
Smooth fellow Damone displays his womanizing skills

Now a common pejorative, the term ‘wuss’ was coined in Fast Times at Ridgemont High! At a given time Mike Damone, the sly guy, calls his nerdy pal Mark a wuss whilst simultaneously defining the new term in the famous quote:

“You are a wuss: part wimp and part pussy.”

Actor Robert Romanus, who plays the self proclamied player Damone, never had any significant roles after this movie. Today he owns a coffeeshop in North Hollywood called Bob’s Espresso Bar. A rather disappointing name for a bar owned by such a smooth talker.

Official trailer for Fast Times At Ridgemont High